How to Identify an Old Bottle Jack

Updated February 21, 2017

Today, modern cooks often depend on rotisserie mechanisms to turn a turkey, duck, roast beef or pork roast so the meat cooks evenly all the way around. Primitive cooks discovered that when meat was suspended over the fire on a rotating pole or spit, a succulent roast resulted. The mid-19th century development of the bottle jack or spit jack was one of the improvements that took the hot, uncomfortable chore of turning the spit finally out of human hands.

Observe that a bottle jack is neither a bottle nor a jack, in the accepted definitions of the words. The word "bottle" refers to the cylindrical shape and the word "jack" was used in the 19th century to refer to a variety of mechanical devices. Besides being a cylinder, the bottle jack had a long, narrow neck like a bottle.

Measure the suspected bottle jack. A bottle jack usually measures about 12 to 15 inches in length and 4 to 6 inches in diameter.

Inspect the cylinder for a winding mechanism, which likely will be a square projection inside an opening on the side. Fit the key that accompanies the bottle jack into the square projection or search for a similar size antique clock key.

Use the bottle jack's key or a similar clock key to turn the winder clockwise to test the function of the bottle jack. If the springs are intact, it will slowly unwind, rotating a horizontal piece at the bottom of the main cylinder. This is the governor that connects the mechanism to the spit.

Read any identification on the spit jack. The Buckeye Booster was constructed of cast iron and was a somewhat larger, and heavier, version of the bottle jack. British manufacturers like J. Pearson of London exported their devices to American housewives. Among the identifying names on American jacks were Salters and Nohton, and the Southern Pacific Railroad marketed its own version of the bottle jack.


Prices for antique bottle jacks range widely from about £7 to several hundred dollars. This depends on the condition of the antique, whether or not it works and on the demand. Colonial homeowners may search for antique bottle jacks to authenticate their fireplace cooking equipment.

Things You'll Need

  • Ruler
  • Magnifying glass
  • Old clock key
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About the Author

Karen W. Waggoner is a retired teacher and lifetime scribbler. She has published short stories, essays in anthologies and periodicals. Waggoner is the author of the memoir, "On My Honor, A Navy Wife’s Vietnam War." She is a graduate of Stetson University, the University of Connecticut and Christian College for Women.